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Sharks centre Bronson Xerri.

Bronson Xerri's tattoo collection started at age 14. If it were not for a change in NRL rules, he'd already have a first-grade debut too before being able to legally buy a drink.

Instead the wider rugby league world sat up and took notice after his swerve and verve lit up a soggy Shark Park on Saturday night, Xerri the brightest spark in Cronulla's 28-22 trial win over Manly.

Within minutes of starring in his first senior NRL outing, Xerri was sporting an earring in each ear, declaring himself "definitely" ready for a round-one debut against Newcastle.

Deregistered Sharks coach Shane Flanagan wanted to give him a crack last year while Xerri was still at Endeavour Sports High, only to be thwarted by NRL rules that prevent players coming into grade before they turn 18.

New coach John Morris has no such issue. Just a couple of veteran pros in Josh Morris and Josh Dugan ahead of the brash youngster, whose ink, confidence and 100kg frame draw more than one parallel with the latter.

With a runaway try, a hand in another and a long-range bust down Cronulla's right edge, Xerri made a serious fist of his first trial outing against a near full-strength Manly side in the opening half.

Xerri turns on the jet boots

"I can take a positive out of it, they threw up their first-grade side and we had a couple of young boys out there so we definitely handled it very well," Xerri said.

"I was happy with my performance. There's still little things I can improve on. I'll get to training and do that.

"Dugan and Morris, they're two legends. They've both been helping me a lot lately, defensively too. That's where I need to work on my game."

While Morris also troubled the scorers in his first game for the club, Dugan is back at full training after off-season shoulder surgery, and firming for a round-one return at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Xerri, pronounced like the alcoholic beverage favoured by old ladies, will find his way to the top flight at some point in 2019.

Still living at his family home in nearby Menai, the 18-year-old has his mother's name Teresa tattooed on the right of his neck, a crown behind his left ear and a detailed sleeve down his left arm.

He has family to thank for his Maltese heritage, rise to the NRL fringes and a clip around the ears when he first returned home sporting fresh ink.

"I got all my tattoos when I was young," Xerri grins.

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"I haven't really thought about them, I just wanted to chuck them on me.

"I did it behind their back so they got into me. But it's alright.

"My mum's helped me a lot through coming up. My parents, Dad has helped me a lot through coming up, he's always trying to keep my head on my shoulders and keep me being humble.

"My two older brothers played, one played for Souths, one came through the Sharks system but both just didn't quite make it through injuries".

Coach Morris has pulled no punches about one of the most anticipated youngsters in the game.

Having brought Xerri right through Cronulla's vaunted juniors system, the rookie mentor holds little doubt the Australian Schoolboys and NSW under 20s Origin rep will indeed make it.

“It’s probably a reflection of where he is in the game. He’s an 18-year-old kid and I started him in the centres," Morris said.

“That kind of shows the pre-season he’s had. He’s right in the mix. He’s a local junior who has come through our system and he’s a really good talent.

“That’s a great experience for him out there tonight and takes him into next week and we’ll see what happens.

“He’s developing really nicely. He is going to be in the picture definitely this year.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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